Iris Grace is the auto-biographical story of Arabella Carter-Johnson and her struggles and triumphs with her daughter, Iris Grace. Iris is autistic and the book chronicles Arabella's efforts to find ways to successfully relate to her. One method involved the adoption of a Maine Coon kitten who they named Thula.
More than a therapy cat, Thula became Iris' best friend. She has a sixth sense when it comes to Iris Grace, always knowing just the right thing to do to assuage her and prevent what Arabella calls "meltdowns". Those on the autistic spectrum can have great difficulty with filtering sensory input and become overwhelmed in situations that most of us cope with quite easily. Thula is able to instinctively intervene in those situations and provide just the right kind of distraction to help dissipate Iris' ticking time bombs.
As I read story after story about ways that Thula intervened and helped solve Iris' problems, I was reminded of the fact that most cats probably experience the world in a way much like Iris. Cats have much sharper vision, much keener hearing, and much higher sensitivity to the things that surround them than most people do. It really should come as no surprise that Iris and Thula would become thick as thieves. Thula even swims with Iris and goes on bike rides with the rest of the family!
While much of the book speaks to the fact that an animal like Thula can be more than a pet, it also shows us how differences should be valued. It's a welcome message in a world that often seems to thrive on sameness. Iris not only took to Thula, but also to painting. Her works of art inspire everyone who sees them. Most are amazed that such mature renderings can be accomplished by such a young artist, let alone one on the autistic spectrum.
I've followed Arabella on Iris' Facebook page for quite some time, so I knew how wonderful her photographs are, but I had no idea just how beautifully she's able to transfer her thoughts to the page. This is a highly articulate and emotionally transparent account of some very trying times in her life and she places the reader right in the middle of it all. I find it incredibly brave of her to expose her family in this way and I sincerely hope that her efforts will not only help to pay for Iris' education but will also help those of us who do not have anyone with autism in our lives to better understand them.
Seeing the photos of Iris, Thula and Tree Stump remind me of the 100 Acre Wood and of just how lucky Iris is to have a mother like Arabella. She's created an idyllic setting for her daughter and works endlessly to help prepare Iris for a happy and healthy life. Her dedication and tirelessness moved me to tears.
As to the physical book, it's a work of art itself. Packed full of reproductions of Iris' paintings and Arabella's photos (plenty of which feature Thula), it was a joy to read. Also be sure visit the Iris Grace Painting web site for more of Iris' artwork, including prints!
The book, Iris Grace, comes very highly recommended!